Electracy is a theory by Gregory Ulmer that describes the kind of skills and facility necessary to exploit the full communicative potential of new electronic media such as multimedia, hypermedia, social software, and virtual worlds. According to Ulmer, electracy “is to digital media what literacy is to print.” It encompasses the broader cultural, institutional, pedagogical, and ideological implications inherent in the transition from a culture of print literacy to a culture saturated with electronic media. “Electracy” is the term he gives to what is resulting from this major transition that our society is undergoing. The term is a portmanteau word, combining "electrical" with "literacy," to allude to one of the fundamental terms used by the French philosopher Jacques Derrida to name the relational spacing that enables and delimits any signification in any medium.
Electracy denotes a broad spectrum of research possibilities including the history and invention of writing and mnemonic practices, the epistemological and ontological changes resulting from such practices, the sociological and psychological implications of a networked culture, and the pedagogical implementation of practices derived from such explorations.
Ulmer writes of electracy:
What literacy is to the analytical mind, electracy is to the affective body: a prosthesis that enhances and augments a natural or organic human potential. Alphabetic writing is an artificial memory that supports long complex chains of reasoning impossible to sustain within the organic mind. Digital imaging similarly supports extensive complexes of mood atmospheres beyond organic capacity. Electrate logic proposes to design these atmospheres into affective group intelligence. Literacy and electracy in collaboration produce a civilizational left-brain right-brain integration. If literacy focused on universally valid methodologies of knowledge (sciences), electracy focuses on the individual state of mind within which knowing takes place (arts).
Ulmer’s work benefits from considering other historical moments of radical technological change (such as the profound changes resulting from the inventions of the alphabet, writing, and the printing press), and thus his work is grammatological insofar as it derives and extrapolates a methodology from the history of writing and mnemonic practices. His career can be encapsulated as an attempt to invent a rhetoric for electronic media.
Ulmer introduced electracy in Teletheory (1989), and it began to be noted in the scholarship as early as 1997. It has been regarded as among the "most prominent" contemporary designations for what Walter J. Ong once described as a "secondary orality" that will eventually supplant print literacy As James Inman writes, "It is important to distinguish electracy from other terms, such as computer-based literacy, Internet literacy, digital literacy, electronic literacies, metamedia literacy, and even cyber-punk literacy. None of these other terms have the breadth electracy does as a concept, and none of them draw their ontology from electronic media exclusively". Some scholars have viewed the electracy paradigm, along with other "apparatus theories" such as Ong's, with skepticism, arguing that they are "essentialist" or "determinist."
Electracy and pedagogy
Ulmer’s work has implications for the practice of education as well. Co-author of a textbook for freshman English courses, Ulmer develops undergraduate and graduate level courses which incorporate his theories and invite students into the process of inventing new practices and genres.
Alan Clinton, in a review of Internet Invention, writes that “Ulmer’s pedagogy ultimately levels the playing field between student and teacher” Academic Lisa Gye also recognizes the pedagogical implications of Ulmer’s work:
The transition from a predominantly literate culture to an electronic culture is already engendering changes in the ways in which we think, write and exchange ideas. Ulmer has been concerned with the kinds of changes that take place as a result of this transition and his primary concern has been a pedagogical one – that is, he is interested in how learning is transformed by the shift from the apparatus of literacy to the apparatus of what he comes to term ‘electracy’.
Electracy as an educational aim has been recognized by scholars in several fields, including English composition and rhetoric, literary and media criticism, digital media and art, and architecture Mikesch Muecke explains that "Gregory Ulmer's ideas on electracy provide … a model for a new pedagogy where learning is closer to invention than verification"
Ulmer himself writes:
Electrate pedagogy is based in art/aesthetics as relays for operating new media organized as a prosthesis for learning any subject whatsoever. The near absence of art in contemporary schools is the electrate equivalent of the near absence of science in medieval schools for literacy. The suppression of empirical inquiry by religious dogmatism during the era sometimes called the "dark ages" (reflecting the hostility of the oral apparatus to literacy), is paralleled today by the suppression of aesthetic play by empirical utilitarianism (reflecting the hostility of the literate apparatus to electracy). The ambivalent relation of the institutions of school and entertainment today echoes the ambivalence informing church-science relations throughout the era of literacy.
Ulmer's educational methods fit into a broader paradigm shift in pedagogical theory and practice known as constructivism. He discusses the relationship between pedagogy and electracy at length in an interview with Sung-Do Kim published in 2005.
- Ulmer, G. L. (2003). Internet Invention: From Literacy to Electracy. New York: Longman.
- Porter, David. Internet Culture. New York: Routledge, 1997.
- Inman, James. A. Computers and Writing: The Cyborg Era. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2004.
- Ong, Walter J. Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word. London: Metheun, 1982.
- Inman, James A. "Electracy for the Ages: Collaboration with the Past and Future." Electronic Collaboration in the Humanities: Issues and Options. Ed. James A. Inman, Cheryl Reed, and Peter Sands. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2003. p. 52
- See, for example, Inman's cautionary statement on page 161 of Computers and Writing: The Cyborg Era and a response essay by Stephen Tchudi in Electronic Collaboration in the Humanities, pp. 79–88.
- Scholes, R., Comley, N. & Ulmer, G.L. (1994). Text Book: An Introduction to Literary Language 2nd Edition. New York: St. Martin's Press.
- See, for example, student work posted at http://web.nwe.ufl.edu/~gulmer/s01/sevans2/, http://web.nwe.ufl.edu/~gulmer/course/mystory1.html, and http://www.anabiosispress.org/rsmyth/writings/diss/index.html.
- "Reconstruction 5.1 (Winter 2005)". Reconstruction.eserver.org. Retrieved 2011-06-05.
- "FCJ-006 Halflives, A Mystory: Writing Hypertext to Learn | The Fibreculture Journal : 02". Journal.fibreculture.org. 1999-02-22. Retrieved 2011-06-05.
- See Inman and also Leander,Kevin, and Paul Prior, "Speaking and Writing: How Talk and Text Interact in Situated Practices," What Writing Does and How It Does It: An Introduction to Analyzing Texts and Textual Practices, ed. Charles Bazerman and Paul Prior, Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2004)
- O'Gorman, Marcel. E-Crit: Digital Media, Critical Theory, and the Humanities. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2006.
- Mitrasinovic, Miodrag, Total Landscape, Theme Parks, Public Space, Aldershot, England, and Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing, 2006; Muecke, Mikesch W. Gottfried Semper in Zurich: An Intersection of Theory and Practice. Ames, IA: Culicidae Architectural Press, 2005.
- Muecke, p. 4
- Kim, Sung-Do. "The Grammatology of the Future" (An Interview with Gregory Ulmer). Deconstructing Derrida: Tasks for the New Humanities. Ed. Peter Pericles Trifonas and Michael A. Peters. New York: Palgrave-Macmillan, 2005. 137–64.
- Gregory Ulmer’s homepage
- “Toward a Theory of New Literacies Emerging From the Internet and Other Information and Communication Technologies”
- Tilson, William and John Craig Freeman. "Place and the Electrate Situation". Rhizomes 13 (Fall 2006).
- Clips from video interviews with Ulmer
- Imaging EmerAgency: A Conversation with Greg Ulmer